what is good for Devon must also be good for Somerset

see documentary by Rhys Davies

the Lynton stage about to leave from Minehead station

Communication along the north coast from Lynton to Minehead was very poor at this time, and the terrible hill at Porlock was looked upon with fear by many travellers. In 1898 an alternative was proposed in the form of a Minehead & Lynton Light Railway; a two foot gauge tourist line which would have started alongside the GWR station at Minehead and followed the coast through Porlock and Countisbury, terminating near the Tors Hotel at Lynmouth. The line was fully surveyed and a public enquiry held by the Light Railway Commissioners in Minehead, but there was insufficient public support and Sir George Newnes of the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway opposed the scheme claiming that there was adequate transport already available for the region.

Porlock Hill

So things would have remained, were it not for the Halliday family.

The Hallidays vied with Sir George Newnes for the position of 'great local landowner'. Their residence, the Glenthorne Estate, was founded by the Reverend Walter Halliday, a nouveau riche Scottish intellectual who inherited his money from his father Simon, a banker who had amassed a small fortune during the Napoleonic wars. Simon’s Will directed Walter to use part of it to establish a family estate, and accordingly Glenthorne House was built between 1839 and 1846.

Glenthorne House

Walter Halliday, aspiring social status, gradually purchased Countisbury parish, the title of Lord of the Manor to go with it and set about 'bringing modernity' to the local population in the manner of a ‘benevolent despot’, providing employment on his estate and establishing Poor Houses for the destitute of the area.

His nephew, Mr William H. Halliday, inherited the estate in 1872. William was to later become a director of the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway and played a core role throughout its inception and construction. He died on May 11th 1898 on the very day that the first train steamed into Lynton.

The estate was inherited by his son, William Benjamin Halliday (or 'Ben Halliday'), who realised that unless the Glenthorne Estate developed new business opportunities, it could be lost to the family within a few decades.

William Benjamin Halliday

Historically, coal from South Wales had been landed on Glenthorne Beach and sold to local merchants, and Halliday decided that this business could be further developed if he constructed a deep water harbour close by. This site was the only place along this part of the coastline where deeper draught ships could approach the shore. He also began to construct a small power station near Porlock. While Porlock Weir afforded access to shallow draught vessels expansion of that small harbour was not feasible. A narrow gauge railway was to be built to ship the coal from the harbour to the power station.

The newly built West Porlock power station

However, Halliday found himself running up against Sir George Newnes, who was against further development of the area and owned enough of the intervening land between Glenthorne and Porlock to prevent him from building his railway.

This forced Halliday into applying for an Act of Parliament which would give him powers of compulsory purchase. In order to succeed, he would have to reroute the railway inland to join up as many villages as possible. This, he believed would bring him overwhelming public support with which to defeat any opposition rallied by Newnes. This decision marked the beginning of a long feud between the families.

The plan was to build a line connecting with the Lynton and Barnstaple to Minehead, with a branch line to the harbour and another to the Porlock power station. The proposal would have allowed relatively easy grades down to Minehead which would be approached from the East via Dunster and the Avill Valley.

The Minehead Railway Extension bill was presented to Parliament in 1899. This was passed by the Commons but rejected by the Lords. Sir George Newnes had managed to get support from the local elite to oppose the bill. The cited grounds for rejection included lack of proper stations for Barbrook and Lynton, and Newnes also managed to convince the owners of Oare Manor that the railway would deface their views and devalue their property.

click here to see large scale maps of original proposal

A modified bill was presented in the following year. The changes included a stiff grade down to Barbrook and Lynton and the provision of stations there. Consequently, a huge viaduct would have to be built near Lynton to return the line back to its intended route. The line was also diverted in the vicinity of Malmsmead through a deep cutting behind Oare Manor, with a private halt promised for the manor. This deviation meant that much more extensive civil engineering works would be needed and grades on the climb to the summit would be much steeper.

The cost of the undertaking had now risen dramatically, as Newnes had hoped, in the belief that this would force Halliday to give up. Newnes was unaware, however, of funds available to Halliday from Scotland.  The issue of the new railway had now become a matter of pride to Halliday and the line would be built no matter what the cost. The bill received Royal Assent on April 6th 1900 as the Minehead Extension Railway Act, authorising the Minehead-Lynton main-line.

One week later, two light railway orders were awarded to the newly formed Glenthorne Harbour Authority, granting powers to build the steeply graded branch line to the port (Glenthorne Railway No.1) and a second branch from Wootton Courtenay to Porlock West (Glenthorne Railway No.2).

With the required powers in hand, construction of the new railway could begin.


bring 'Lyn' back to life